Agriculture in the Flathead Valley front and center at mid-year
The MFU mid-year is an opportunity for members to come together to talk policy and tour the various areas of agriculture in particular regions of the state. Last year the mid-year was held at MSU Bozeman, this year MFU focused its attention on exploring agriculture in the Flathead Valley. The event kicked off Wednesday morning with a tour of Plum Creek Timber Company. Secondly, the group traveled to Flathead Valley Community College to learn about the working farm at the college and the research conducted there. FVCC offers a variety of Ag related programs where students learn the science and theory of farming, plants and animal science, pest management and more. Students do internships on the campus farm as part of the curriculum. In addition to academic programs FVCC holds field trials on the five acre farm.
“We grow vegetable crops and have high oxidant dirt setting that Montana State University has been conducting for the past four years around the state,” said Heather Estrada with FVCC. “We have six different species of dark fruit studying yield which is sent for analysis looking at anti-oxidant value and sugar content, things like that.” FVCC also does dry bean trials and wheat investigation.
Mid-year group at Purple Frog Gardens, Whitefish.
Brewing Academy of Montana
Next to the farm is the Brewing Academy of Montana. Attendees learned about the academic side of the academy, the brewing process and business side of brewing. The school has a five gallon system for students to get to know the process. “We are one of the first academic breweries able to sell their beer in the area at places like Montana Tap House,” said program director Joe Byers.“We brew mostly IPA’s. It’s a really great model for students to learn about the importance of consistency with the products that we are making. The beer we brew is what you see in craft breweries. We are really happy to be able to make and sell beer that people enjoy.”
The next stop was for lunch at Purple Frog Gardens owned and operated by Pam Gerwe for an authentic farm-to-table lunch featuring local ingredients, some of which were grown on the farm near Whitefish.
Pam operates a weekly vegetable and flower CSA. The lunch was a true farm-to-table experience and enjoyed immensely by the group!
After lunch we toured the Scott Hops Farm just down the road from Purple Frog Gardens. Kevin Scot runs a family owned five acre Hops farm. The family contracts with a distiller in Whitefish who turns the hops into oil. Kevin said the idea to start the farm was not planned.“They were doing a hop harvest at a local hops farm and my dad had a couple of beers and was like we can do this. We had our first family meeting ever and about soon after became Hop farmers.”
Using a sophisticated system with strings made of coconut and paper the hops climb off the ground away from moisture and vine killing fungal disease. Strings allow them to seek out sunshine during the growing season. The plants then produce cones filled with the Lupulin which gives beer flavor and aroma.
On a daily basis the hops use a gallon of water and grow about six-to-nine inches. The Scott family plans the harvest schedule by drying out a small amount of hops which shows the moisture content. “When the moisture content hits about 80 percent we harvest. Once the vines are cut you have twenty four hours to turn the hops into whatever form you are looking for. If you don’t meet this time frame the moisture content is not there for processing. A Hops plant has a lifespan of 20-25 years. “They are like a weed. We were really cautious with them the first year. You can’t kill these things.”
AACT Biorefinery Aims to Reduce Carbon Footprint
After the hops farm the next stop was the AACT Biorefinery which uses wood chips to grow algae and convert it into methane and electricity. AACT is located on the property of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company. Michael Smith is the president and cofounder of AACT. Smith says the technology will help reduce the carbon footprint of the timber industry. “It’s a closed loop system. Carbon dioxide is captured and used as a nutrient for the algae and then the algae are fed into bio-reactors which consume organic matter and produce methane which is eventually converted into electricity.”
Value-Added Agriculture: Tabletree Juice
Gary and Susan Show of Tabletree Cherry Juice and Bruce Johnson with the Flathead Cherry Grower Cooperative discussed the cherry market in the Flathead Valley. The Snows told the story of how they brought Tabletree Cherry Juice from British Columbia in 2015 and started producing cherry juice in 2016. Now the facility they use to make the juice is in Finley Point which is located in Lake County.
“Our juice is an amazing standalone beverage that can be used anywhere from salads to main course dishes through desert.” said Gary. “It’s great with beer and spirits and has fabulous anti-inflammatory properties. With cherries if you don’t lose it in your process there are huge medicinal benefits of cherries and we have not lost that in our process.” The Snows are talking with a company in India to open up that market for their juice.
Panel on the CSKT Water Compact
In addition to talking about value-added agriculture the conference hosted a panel on the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe Water Compact which is waiting ratification by Congress. Panelists included area producer Susan Lake, State Representative Dan Solomon, Dick Erb and Arne Wick with the DNRC.
Wick, a member of the CSKT Compact Team, provided an overview of the compact. Dan Solomon talked about the legislative process the CSKT Water Compact went through at the state level and Susan Lake shared her perspective as a producer.The event concluded with a membership discussion on policy looking forward to the 2019 state convention and lunch with speakers Ron de Yong, Kalispell and Jenny Hopkinson with National Farmers Union.